It was an especially chilly November day when a dozen vegetarian activists from the Tri-State area set up a picket at Marzigliano's Live-Poultry Market, in Union City, New Jersey, to distribute informational leaflets to shoppers in the neighborhood. The activists, led by Carol Moon of VegOut-a Manhattan-based vegetarian group-and George Vasquez, a Union City resident, surely had better things to do this day, but just knowing of the impending Thanksgiving Day carnage that turkeys and other domestic fowl throughout the nation were about to endure, they felt that the proprietor and customers of this unsavory establishment needed to hear their vegetarian voices.
The editors of The VivaVine are grateful for the following impassioned arguments for an end to live-poultry markets as well as for the adoption of a compassionate vegetarian lifestyle.
Chickens are raised in filthy, overcrowded conditions
In the United States each year, 7 billion chickens and 300 million turkeys are slaughtered, 40 million turkeys for Thanksgiving alone. They are raised in filthy, overcrowded conditions, biologically engineered so that they are often too fat to stand up and too fat to breed without artificial insemination. They are brutally debeaked at an early age, and most spend their entire lives without enough room to spread their wings. Male chicks, no good for breeding or egg laying, are tossed into trash barrels as soon as they hatch and left to smother or sometimes ground up alive for fertilizer. The chickens who make it as far as the live-poultry markets are usually "spent" fowl, who have outlived their usefulness as breeders or layers. Those who survive the rigors of transportation are stuffed into overcrowded cages, only to await their turn to be hung upside down by their feet, have their throats sliced and then be thrown, dead or alive, into a scald tank to loosen their feathers.
Putting bodies on the line for chickens
Why are we targeting live-poultry markets when the conditions in a Tyson or Perdue factory operation are undoubtedly just as bad? One reason is the proximity. These markets are proliferating on otherwise peaceful streets throughout the area. Marzigli-ano's slaughterhouse is flanked by a jewelry store and a gift shop. Why is it that I am not legally allowed to have a chicken in my backyard but Mr. Marzigliano can have a flock of noisy, smelly, unhealthy-looking victims shipped in weekly?
Second, we take issue most strongly with the blatant cruelty exhibited in these markets. Studies have shown that birds experience pain and suffering just like mammals and have complex cognitive capabilities, yet here their casual deaths become an afternoon's entertainment for the family. As Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns has stated, "Live-animal markets encourage an attitude of callous indifference to the feelings and needs of other creatures that is contrary to the growing consensus in our society that a much more progressive moral attitude is urgently needed."
Needless to say, what Mr. Marzigliano's customers thought was "ridiculous" was quite serious to us. He stated that "either people are going to eat meat or they're not," implying a simple preference, much like saying, "People are either going to drink coffee or they're not." The difference is obvious. No one has ever heard a coffee bean shriek in fear or seen it struggle to escape as it nears the grinder. In a live-animal market, both the consumer and the consumed have an interest in preserving their own life.
Ironically, the notion of preserving (or prolonging) life was how Mr. Marzigliano chose to respond to our picket signs. He countered with two signs of his own-one in English, one in (bad) Spanish-proclaiming, "Live longer, eat more chicken." Being rather sadly amused, I asked Mr. Marzigliano what medical facts he could offer to support this advice, which, according to all the studies I have read, makes about as much sense as "Breathe easier-smoke more cigarettes." Certainly eating more chicken would keep one alive longer than eating nothing, but studies have shown there is a definite link between eating animals and the three biggest killers in the country-heart disease, cancer and stroke. Turkeys have more fat and cholesterol than many cuts of beef. Chickens are often contaminated with salmonella and other dangerous bacteria. We maintain that eating these birds is very unhealthy.
Mr. Marzigliano's reply to my challenge was to cite the freshness argument-"Would you rather buy your meat off a supermarket shelf where it's been sitting for hours or fresh from a poultry market?" When I explained that I didn't eat meat, the analogy switched to vegetables. There I was momentarily stumped. Of course, I would prefer fresh to old, stale produce, but when I looked through the door at Mr. Marzigliano's "fresh" merchandise, I knew my argument was solid. Cages were stacked three decks high, filled with frantic, overcrowded birds, nearly all of whom were missing most of their feathers. In the corner of one of the front cages was a heap of white-a dead chicken-which stayed there the entire afternoon. In the cage next to it were two chickens so close to death that they must have ended up in the garbage before they were selected as someone's "fresh" dinner. This sad presentation surely should make eating a decapitated bird with leg stumps for the holiday dinner quite unappealing.
More information on poultry can be obtained from United Poultry Concerns, P.O. Box 59367, Potomac, Maryland 20859, (301) 948-2406, or from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, Virginia 23510, (757) 622-7382.